Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Pittsburgh Region Makes the Materials that Make New Jets Fly

Most people don't think of southwestern Pennsylvania as a center for the aircraft manufacturing industry. But as reported in the Tribune Review and the Post-Gazette over the past week, a number of local companies are getting a lot of business from Boeing as it manufactures its newest jet, the "Dreamliner" 787:

- Allegheny Technologies will supply the titanium used in major structural components of the aircraft and its engines.

- PPG Industries' Aerospace unit will supply electronically dimmable systems for the windows.

- Kennametal makes tooling for the machining of composites used in the plane.

Not to mention contracts with Development Dimensions International in Bridgeville, FPD and Trigon Inc. in Canonsburg, Bolsan Co. in Eighty Four, Precision Defense Services in Irwin, Ferguson Full Service Supply and Latrobe Steel in Latrobe, Protech Pro Technical Service in Monroeville, Breeze Industrial Products Corp. in Saltsburg, and Acutronic, Aerotech, Alcoa, American Stress Technologies, Brashear, General Electric Capital, SES Americom, and Wesco in Pittsburgh. This is regional economic impact at its best.

How big a deal is this? Allegheny Technologies signed a $2.5 billion contract with Boeing to supply titanium for various projects, which is the largest contract the company has ever had with a single company. And its plants in Brackenridge, Washington, Houston, Zelienople, and Monaca will get parts of the work, which will help preserve and expand jobs all across the region. And at the other end of the spectrum, the Boeing contracts will be a big portion of the business for smaller companies like FPD.

This is a good example of the Pittsburgh Region's unique strengths in advanced materials and how they help fuel the regional economy. Although we'd like to escape the negative imagery (e.g., smoky skies) that is often associated with being the "Steel City," we certainly don't want to lose the many high-paying jobs here in the companies that continue to make steel and other stronger-than-steel materials for products of the future, from jumbo jetliners all the way down to tiny medical devices.

It's also a good example of how a big company like Boeing can provide the foundation that helps small companies grow. If each of our big companies looked for at least one startup company in the region that it could buy a product or service from, it would be a tremendous boost to entrepreneurship in southwestern Pennsylvania, creating the next generation of companies and the jobs of the future. Some of our region's companies are doing this, but we need more to do so.


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